Northern Soles Paperback – 26 Mar 2018
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“Travel writing with good humour and a welcome attention to issues of equality and social justice.” Helen Pankhurst, international development and women’s rights activist
“Ankers has a Bill Brysonesque knack of finding infectious delight in apparently inconsequential, unheralded attractions, especially those that mark ‘the faltering progress of society’s rank and file.” Mark Elliott, travel writer
“This delightful road trip bristles with insights.” Polly Toynbee, journalist and writer on social affairs
About the Author
Steve Ankers is a Liverpudlian by birth and now plays the role of expatriate, opinionated northerner in Sussex. He has co-authored two satirical books on town planning in the semi-mythical conurbation of Grotton and a memoir, 'It’s a Dog’s Life for the Other Half', about his life married to a vet. He worries about his carbon footprint, the diminishing size of the Toblerone bar and Liverpool’s habit of conceding goals from set pieces.
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Steve invites us on a journey across Northern England on a route many of us would not necessarily think of taking. He takes us to quirky and unusual places and finds some extraordinary people to meet, places to explore and events to experience. They are described beautifully and the writing is a joy, full of wit and insightful observation. The journey is not easy for him, being of a certain age and of compromised fitness but (spoiler alert!) he makes it and we are the better for it. He conjures a page-turner out of what might be assumed to be a simple travel book. This is a great read, it deserves to be read by a wide audience - Bill Bryson without the meanness. Treat yourself!
Black peas at Staybridge station bar and then my friends Nick and Julie suddenly appear together with the wooden narrow boat Hazel!.
Like Steve I am on unfamiliar territory as he heads east but enjoyed the commentary and saw many parallels with reduced funding and struggles to attract volunteers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, great stuff. I recall the Grotton Roadshow coming to BDP in Preston (1980?) and my wife still remembers singing along to "altogether in the Structure Plan" - did we really do that??
For example, he points out that the layout of Central Park in NY was based on one in Birkenhead, and that Ellington Colliery in Northumberland was still using pit ponies as late as 1994. These interesting facts are brought to life by Steve's clear devotion to the North, a feeling which permeates the book and stays with the reader long putting the book down.
He writes from a fairly left wing, egalitarian perspective, supportive of what he calls "the long march of everyman", "the faltering progress of society's rank and file around the globe". He is thus appreciative of urban regeneration projects undertaken by volunteer groups, e.g. the restoration of the Victoria Baths in Manchester, saved from dereliction in 2003 with Lottery funding and now looked after by a team of eight volunteers. As a volunteer for similar projects, I appreciated Steve's determination to meet such people and mention them in a positive light.
The book contains a lot of dry, low-key humour, difficult to quote out of context but often quite funny. There are occasional mentions of the author's wife sitting comfortably at their home in Sussex while he braves the elements and also a daughter at uni who gets into various studentish scrapes. I am a quick reader, but found myself savouring these moments of warmth and reflection as I made my way through the book.
Altogether an engaging and entertaining read I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.